NEW YORK—The famous Madison Square Garden (MSG) hosts the Knicks, the Rangers, hundreds of concerts, and even the circus, all while its owner pays no property taxes.
The tax exemption started in 1982, with a deal meant to encourage sports teams to play in the heart of New York City. Then-mayor Ed Koch meant for the tax exemption to last 10 years. It has lasted 31 years.
Meanwhile, The Madison Square Garden Company has grown into a mega-corporation worth $4.4 billion. It owns three cable television channels, as well as Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater, and several other theaters across the country.
New York State Senator James Sanders, Jr. and Assemblyman David Weprin are pushing a bill that would end the exemption for the MSG venue in Manhattan—worth about $17 million a year in missed tax revenue.
At New York City Hall on Tuesday, City Council members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander also expressed support for the bill.
“What does it say about our public values that we’re talking about eliminating child care slots, and closing firehouses, and cutting library hours,” asked Councilman Lander, “at the same time that we’re finding $17 million this year and every year for a sports stadium that doesn’t need it?”
It could be a tough fight in Albany. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo favors continuing the tax exemption.
Cuomo points out that MSG brings jobs and commerce to Manhattan. Meanwhile, MSG feels they are being unfairly singled out. Other sports stadiums—like Yankee Stadium and Citi Field where the Mets play—have a similar property tax exemption.
According to DNAInfo.com, Cuomo has received more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from MSG, and the company that used to own it, Cablevision, though there is no clear evidence that such contributions have influenced his support for MSG’s tax break.
And yet a number of interest groups, including Municipal Arts Society, Regional Plan Association, and the American Institute of Architects, do not necessarily care about the money at all. They just want MSG to move.
At a City Planning Commission hearing in May, groups argued to put a 10-year limit on the building’s operating permit so that MSG can be relocated. This would allow the underground Penn Station—the busiest transportation hub in North America—to be rebuilt to better accommodate its 600,000 daily commuters. They hope that ending the tax exemption would be helpful in pushing MSG out.